“There’s always something novel taking place” – On the record with Callan Quinn

Welcome to another ‘On The Record’ with YAP Global. A series where we speak to the journalists behind the stories that keep you up-to-date with the crypto, blockchain and digital asset space. This time we spoke with Callan Quinn

Callan Quinn is an accomplished journalist currently focused on exploring the exciting world of crypto. With a history of working with renowned platforms such as Forbes, DL News, Cointelegraph, and The Block, she’s played a pivotal role in shaping the narrative around blockchain technology. As she navigates the ever-evolving landscape of crypto, Callan remains dedicated to unearthing lesser-known developments and trends that highlight the industry’s potential and challenges.

What sparked your interest in crypto, and what has kept you engaged throughout your career?

My interest in crypto was initially kindled by what some may argue is its most practical application at present – the ease of transferring money across borders. This can be particularly valuable when you’re living and working abroad, where moving money can sometimes pose challenges. For instance, I lived in China for a time and even though it’s legal for foreigners to take money out of the country, in practical terms there were a lot of bureaucratic hurdles.

While living in Tbilisi, Georgia, I was immersed in a vibrant crypto community. The city was buzzing with crypto meetups and individuals promoting an array of projects, some of which were quite peculiar. The knowledge that some of these were likely scams didn’t deter people, and there was a kind of allure to the whirlwind of activity and the idiosyncrasies of the crypto world. This constant churn and the sheer eccentricity of it all is what sustained my interest.

Did you have any prior knowledge or interest in crypto before 2017?

I first heard about crypto when I was a teenager, thanks to US congressmen discussing the infamous Silk Road on the news. Intrigued by this, I downloaded Tor and started looking through dark web websites. I was somewhat disappointed to find that the Silk Road wasn’t as menacing as it was portrayed. Much of it was mundane, like kids offering to do homework for Bitcoin, and the rest wasn’t much different from what one could find elsewhere, just with added complicated steps. I think Bitcoin was around a few hundred dollars back then, and I didn’t understand why anyone would pay that much for it. 

What’s been the coolest development you’ve covered?

I started doing crypto journalism full-time at The Block in March last year (2022), just weeks before the market took a tumble. The initial weeks were relatively calm, with coverage focused on routine topics like rates and regulation. However, the ensuing chaos that followed the market collapse made for a frantic work environment.

While the dramatic market movements often grab headlines, I find the less publicized developments to be more intriguing. There have been fascinating explorations into the distribution of voting power in Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and how it can be manipulated for personal gain – whether that’s seizing control of a DAO or, as we’ve seen with Tornado Cash, other ingenious manoeuvres.

I recall one of the early stories I covered about a gaming DAO in which a proposal was submitted asking for an investor to be booted. That investor ended up walking away with a substantial sum of money as compensation. There have also been instances of individuals leveraging their sizable voting power to secure grants from DAOs.

Why GameFi?

Interesting question. When I first started covering GameFi, it was an assignment and I didn’t have a deep understanding of the field. Personally, I enjoy playing games like Minecraft. I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing Stardew Valley, albeit with not much progress to show for it!

GameFi intrigues me, though I must admit, I’m not fully convinced about its long-term viability. There’s no shortage of enthusiasm among developers who are keen to create captivating games. However, I question the sustainability of transforming these games into mini-economies. It’s already done to an extent with free-to-play games but the value of items can’t really be affected by outside events in the same way on-chain items can. 

I interview a lot of founders of web3 gaming companies and I don’t often find that they’re huge web3 gaming fans themselves. They also seem to prefer traditional games. That’s a bit concerning, frankly. Usually, the justification is that it’s early days and it’s the promise of web3 gaming that’s attractive as opposed to what it currently is. I’m curious to see how this space evolves over time.

What’s your favourite thing about crypto

There’s so much happening in the crypto industry, especially from a journalist’s perspective. It’s actually quite an engaging industry to cover because there’s never a dull moment – I wouldn’t want to call it drama, but well, it’s drama.

Before this, I spent a considerable amount of time covering topics related to China, and getting someone there to open up to a journalist, especially a Western one, was no easy task. Crypto, on the other hand, is a different story. It’s easier to reach out to industry figures, including CEOs, thanks to platforms like Telegram.

However, what I enjoy most is attending various conferences and meetups, and getting to meet people offline. There are plenty of opportunities to do that in the crypto space.

Are there aspects of the industry that bother you?

There’s still an alarming amount of manipulation in the crypto world, and it’s shockingly blatant. Every week, I get added to a new pump-and-dump group on Telegram. If you’ve never encountered these, they’re essentially forums where coordinated market manipulation is planned out.

The organizers instruct group members to buy a specific token on a specific exchange at a precise time. As the price inflates, outsiders see the token’s value rising and decide to invest, further driving the price up. Then, the group members are told to sell, causing the price to crash.

It’s disturbing to see people take part in these schemes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the ones orchestrating them are cashing out long before they are. These ringleaders are the real profiteers, not the average group member.

These groups tie into other concerns I have about companies and projects trying to create “communities.” It’s become something every crypto project seemingly needs and I think it can be a bit artificial. For every project where people are actually interested and engaged there are dozens where the only motivator to join is speculating on a token. Plus there are projects that boast about thriving communities but when you look at their Discord or voting history on Snapshot nothing is really happening.

Meanwhile, there are companies that are able to gain legitimacy by virtue of having a loudmouth CEO or appearing in the media that aren’t what they claim to be. In my opinion, the crypto landscape still offers a fertile ground for swindlers to take advantage of unsuspecting participants.

In your tenure as a journalist, have you observed any significant shifts?

I’ve noticed a shift in attitudes towards regulation in the crypto space. Some people insist that crypto isn’t regulated or, given its decentralized nature, can’t be. But in reality, everything is subject to some form of regulation; it’s just not always clear which laws and jurisdictions are applicable.

On the positive side, I’ve seen a trend of people becoming more critical of crypto projects. Instead of blindly proclaiming, ‘This is the future, we’re all going to make it’, there’s a growing sense of scrutiny. I hope this shift signals a maturation in the industry and that will make it less exploitative. The arrival of more ‘adult’ perspectives is a welcome development, as it could help foster a more balanced and responsible crypto environment.

Can you share some of the most compelling pitches you’ve received from PR professionals?

Relevance is key. I think vetting is important as well. There have been instances where PR people pitch companies that present one thing on their website, but when you dig a little deeper, the reality doesn’t quite match up.

For instance, I recently interviewed a company that listed numerous clients on its website. But when I started asking questions, it turned out they only had one client, not the dozens their website seemed to suggest. 

In terms of style, pitches that are short, to the point, and timely resonate with me. They don’t need to be ready-made articles, as journalists should be doing their own additional research anyway. 

How do you feel about crypto journalism at the moment, and how do you see this changing over the next six months to a year?

Crypto journalism is indeed a dynamic field, though not without its challenges. We’ve had controversies involving certain news outlets – unfortunately, including ones I’ve worked for like The Block – but also the emergence of new platforms doing remarkable work.

For example, DL News, where I’ve freelanced, emphasizes on-the-ground, face-to-face reporting, which I believe lends a valuable facet to crypto journalism. 

I do think a considerable portion of crypto journalism has traditionally relied on tweets and online content for news and updates. It’s genuinely refreshing to see a return to more traditional reporting methods, where journalists venture out into the field for firsthand coverage.

What is the best part of your day?

It’s that moment of fulfilment when an article is finally done, and I’m satisfied with it. There’s a unique gratification in submitting a piece I’m truly proud of and then shifting gears towards the next one.

What part of crypto are you personally watching the most this year?

I am keeping a close eye on the gaming industry as part of my fortnightly gaming column for Cointelegraph. It’s an industry that attracted a significant amount of venture capital funding last year. There’s a bustling scene, with numerous ambitious projects releasing alpha and beta versions of their games. I’m curious to see whether web3 gaming will flourish or falter, but irrespective of the outcome, it’s interesting what’s going on there. So, for better or worse, it’s an exciting time for web3 gaming.

I’ve also recently been on the ground in Cambodia looking at pig butchering scams and human trafficking, so stay tuned for that.

Stay connected with Callan Quinn by following her on Twitter for the latest updates and engaging discussions.

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